Charles LeDray. Book Ends. 2018–20. Eighteen handbound miniature books with letterpress, inkjet, offset, pencil, crayon, and ink on paper and two clay bricks, part (bookends, each): 3 3/4 × 1 5/8 × 1 1/8" (9.5 × 4.1 × 2.9 cm). Printer: Leslie Miller, The Grenfell Press, New York. Fabricator: Mark Tomlinson (Bookbinder). Edition: Unique. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Library Council of The Museum of Modern Art

Art and literature are two avenues that communicate ideas, spark movements, and inspire empathy. Here, MoMA staff share artworks related to what we, and artists, have read.

Joan Miró. Barcelona, XXXIV. 1944

I admire the way Joan Miró presents the violence and atrocity of the Spanish Civil War through playful figures. It somehow feels like a war seen through an innocent child’s eyes, expressing the downside of humanity through soft, biomorphic figures. It reminded me of Mario Escobar’s novel Remember Me, that is the story of Los Niños de Morelia, children that were sent to Mexico without their families in 1937 to avoid the Spanish Civil War. The promise was that they would return when the war ended, but these kids ended up growing up alone, having faced both the physical violence of war and the emotional violence of solitude.
—Athina Fili, Publications

Jeff Wall. After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue. 1999–2000

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free,” wrote Ralph Ellison, and I immediately knew what he meant. Though it’s been more than 70 years since the publication of Ellison’s extraordinary novel Invisible Man, his work continues to speak to the experience of young Black people in America. For National Book Month, I’m thinking about Jeff Wall’s luminous photograph, inspired by the novel’s prologue. I love how Wall faithfully depicts the narrator’s underground lair, with its 1,369 light bulbs. They shine on him, showing that while others refuse to see him, he is nevertheless real.
—Arlette Hernandez, Learning and Engagement

Elizabeth Catlett. Mother and Child. 1956

I recently read All that She Carried, an extraordinary book by Tiya Miles that traces the journey of a cotton sack carefully packed by an enslaved woman for her nine-year-old daughter before she was sold from her in the 1850s. The sack’s improbable journey through generations of Black women, a powerful symbol of care and resilience in the face of violence, immediately reminded me of Elizabeth Catlett’s Mother and Child. Created at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the sculpture beautifully captures the purity of maternal love and reminds us, like Ashley’s sack, of the radical potential of love.
—Carlota Ortiz Monasterio, Research Programs

Charles LeDray. Book Ends. 2018–20

I say I make books for a living, but really I’m just part of a big team that makes books. And we have the help of offset presses and bookbinding machinery to create thousands of copies of our books. So I’m fascinated by Charles LeDray’s attention to detail in creating miniature sculptures of well-loved used books. I’m curious about the title too: at first blush it seems to refer to the clay bricks squeezing the books together, but then I think, wait, yeah, how about that feeling you get when a book ends?
—Joseph Mohan, Publications

Aleksandr Rodchenko. Rechevik. Stikhi (Orator. Verse). 1929

I first encountered Aleksandr Rodchenko’s wraparound cover for Orator. Verse, a collection of poems by Sergei Tretyakov, way back in 2002, in the MoMA exhibition The Russian Avant-Garde Book 1910–1934. I was initially drawn in by its simple vibrancy; the stark, eye-catching geometric forms and black-white-red color scheme seem to sum up the arresting style we associate with early Soviet design. But what sticks with me today is its pursuit of the audacious “goal” of Constructivism, abandoning individual artistic expression in favor of a shared visual language—a communal aesthetic toolbox for building a new society.
—Jason Persse, Content Team

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Street, Berlin. 1913

The old Hollywood glamour and the heart-wrenching quest for true love in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, mimics Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Street, Berlin, in which we also see the consequences of fame and fortune.
—Tina James, Marketing

Gavin Jantjes. A South African Colouring Book. 1974–75

Seeing “Whites Only” in big, bold letters is jarring. It simultaneously makes you lean in and recoil at its sight. As a Black man living in America (though this work is referring to apartheid South Africa), it’s challenging to not be in a rage all the time, as James Baldwin more eloquently said. I’ve read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations several times over the years, and the line, “The greatest revenge is to not be like the one who wronged you,” sticks with me, particularly when I’m faced with the rage-inducing imagery in Gavin Jantjes’s portfolio.
—Naeem Douglas, Content Team

Graciela Iturbide. Mujer ángel, Desierto de Sonora (Angel Woman, Sonoran Desert). 1979

In his The Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz writes that “solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition.” No other image comes to mind but this: A woman, an angel—obsidian hair flowing, holding a radio. She conquers the rugged terrain of the Sonoran desert gracefully. Where is she headed? Alone. I’ve always admired Graciela Iturbide’s ability to immortalize both stillness and movement in a way that makes viewers forget she was there to capture the image in the first place. As an artist, my work is informed by Iturbide’s photographs, which, to me, are homages to the inexplicably complex nature of human condition in our beloved Mexico.
—Ivanna Rodriguez-Rojas, Learning and Engagement

Salvador Dalí. The Persistence of Memory. 1931

Objects slowly slip away from the memory of inhabitants on an unnamed island in The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa—just like in Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory. In this barren landscape, will you hold on to your humanity, or slither away until you yourself are forgotten?
—Allison Knoll, Marketing

Florine Stettheimer. Portrait of My Mother. 1925

As a poet and host of one of New York’s most famous salons as well as a painter, Florine Stettheimer’s life was abloom with literature. In this portrait, a bookshelf is prominently displayed and her mother holds Stettheimer’s sister’s novel in her hands. Reading here is more than a leisure activity; it’s a means for a woman’s independence. Stettheimer’s paintings themselves are like books cracked open, suggesting the bountiful worlds of the imaginative mind.
—Prudence Peiffer, Content Team

Jennifer Bartlett. Rhapsody. 1975–76

Rhapsody is an interactive piece because it invites the audience to jump in and out of conversation, connecting one everyday object or aspect of life to another. The idea of this inner dialogue reminded me of stream-of-consciousness novels, particularly Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. The novel flows in and out of various historical events, individual conversations, and random mathematical calculations to analyze the relationships between technology and life. Both Jennifer Bartlett’s installation and Pynchon’s novel use an excessive amount of information to emphasize the everyday.
—Laura Popescu, Learning and Engagement